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Bad Time/Food at Royal Hawaiian - Orange County, CA

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Royal Hawaiian Restaurant, Laguna Beach, California

Well, here's what happened in a nutshell (or should I say coconut?)

Made 6:30 reservations for Tuesday night. Arrived with my wife & 3 y.o. daughter. Had a waitress who acted like she had no patience for anyone (keep in mind there was only my family and 2 other couples in the restaurant area). Looking around, the decor seemed a bit like someone had bad ebay buying judgement one night. It was a bit drafty, and looking up above our heads my wife and I noticed that the restaurant installed gray Vornado fans at each table and they were pointed right down at the tables....why? we determined that it was to keep the musty smell of the carpets from overwhelming you. The draft isn't what we minded...it was the musty/moldy smell which got smellier the closer you got towards the bathroom area. Ok, for the food? Well, both my chicken and my wifes steak (on skewer) were very overcooked, and my daughters hamburger was so-so. Both of our potatoes were served shriveled up (basically cooked to death and could have passed for a cheap shrunken head). I had to have them take back my chicken (no amount of mai tais could help the dryness) and ordered a hamburger. I've heard the dressing for the salads were "fabulous" but when we got the salad, it was just chopped lettuce (yes, just chopped lettuce) with a dressing no more tasty/tangy than lo-cal mayo. Oh, and no tiki mugs available, no drink stirrers, or even cocktail napkins as a souvenir. The tikis outside the restaurant look like someone literally took a big bite out of them (it probably was more juicy than their chicken)...half of the 'face' of the tiki was gone! Now, I'm not a picky person, and can stand one or two things 'not right', but the whole night was TERRIBLE. Am I alone on this one or has anyone else seen this bad place? Hard to believe it has been around since 1947.


[ Edited by: sugarcaddydaddy on 2002-06-20 00:01 ]

Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the Royal Hawaiian.....

I've always had a great time there! The best thing about Royal Hawaiian is that it is pretty much unchanged since the 50s. The outside is classic Polynesian restaurant: lush tropical landscape, Tiki guardians with electrified eyes, colored flood lights, electric Tiki torches, and oversized Tiki door handles! Lobby has vintage bent rattan furniture, bamboo and thatch all around, vintage south pacific artwork. The dining areas are done up in bamboo, rattan, thatch, tapa cloth, Tiki lamps on every table, various Polyneisan artifacts around, and lots of vintage tropical paintings. The bar alone is awesome! Even more bamboo & thatch, puffer fish lamps, glass floats, lava rock wall, aquariums, great lapu-lapus!

Keep in mind when going to Royal Hawaiian: don't go expecting awesome food & service! The food is so-so, I think most of the waitresses have been working there since the early days of the place (with the attitude to boot). I usually wait over an hour to be seated (even with reservations). The air inside is a bit stale (I don't think there's an effective way to clean 50 yrs of smoke & grease off of thatching). The place could use a good restoration, but at least it has survived any streamline remodels.

The place is always packed on the weekends! If you don't get there early, you'll spend forever worming your way into the bar, and without a reservation, expect a 2 hour wait to be seated.

The best thing about Royal Hawaiian is that it is AUTHENTIC! It is true to what it is... a kitschy 50s Polynesian restaurant!

Then again, my judgement is usually clouded by a lapu-lapu......



I had my first meal at the Royal Hawaiian 25 years ago. In 25 years time I have encountered attitude, muskyness and overcooked food at the RH. I don't think managment cares one way or another, they do major biz. I still love the place. The only thing to order are the ribs. They are very good. The Lapu Lapu is good to.

I must agree with Traderpup. I too, have always had a great time there. Granted the tiki's out front look a bit weathered but hey, they've been out there for over 50 years. Along the same lines, the days of the tiki mugs, swizzle sticks, etc are long gone.

sugarcaddydaddy, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your experience there but the place does get PACKED on the weekends. For this reason, I'm not at all surprised they've been open since 1947.

I too am sorry 'SugarCaddyDaddy' didn't have a great time at the Royal Hawaiian. I think the reason the rest of the TC members that have been to RH love it isn't because of the decor, food or service, but rather its history. It has the essense of all that we like about the tiki era. Yes! it's cheesy, and a bit run down - that's the best part! As a dining tip to you 'SugarCaddyDaddy' (or SCD when in the 'hood) maybe you would enjoy Duke's at the HB pier more. It's sterile and pasteurized. But even they don't have any swizzle sticks or napkins worth keeping.

PS - the OC mini-crawl on the 2nd week in July WILL BE GOING TO ROYAL HAWAIIAN!

I took a look around some of the "food critic" sights (non-tiki), and it seems that I probably experienced a totally off night. Also, the ribs seem to be the thing to order there.

After thinking about the whole experience, the only conclusion that I can think of is:

  1. Maybe going on a non-busy night (remember, it was my family and 2 other couples in the whole place), is a bad idea for food. If I go on a busy night, then maybe the kitchen is totally busy, meaning quicker turnaround of the food, thus avoiding overcooked chicken and potato.
  2. Maybe the better cooks are reserved for Fridays and Saturdays (not Tuesdays).
  3. Stick with the ribs only.
  4. My expectations were set too high for a place that has been here since 1947.

Ok, maybe I'll give it another try in the future. Thanks everyone!



I enjoyed my visit there a couple of years ago but I didn't try the food. I had one Lapu Lapu that was huge and strong and pretty tasty too. Then I walked (stumbled) around looking at the decor. I especially liked the diorama with tiki and tropical plants in the dining room and the lamps in the lobby. I posed for a photo next to the tikis outside and practically knocked the over they were so rotted at the base! I definately want to return!

I guess this is bound to happen more and more. People that are new to Tiki culture and walk into one of the few surviving places expecting "service","good food", or a "familly friendly atmosphere". The above review sounds like someone from Martha Steward wrote it.
I had thought of putting a disclaimer in the Book of Tiki noting that 95% of the establishments in the book did not exist anymore, so that people would not think it was a restaurant guide. "Wow, this Tiki thing is kinda neat, let's go out to the next best neighbourhood Tiki temple on Friday and have fun".

A place like the Royal Hawaiian is not visited as a restaurant, but as a museum. It's mere existence is a miracle. The grimy walls, the defunct dioramas, the decrepit Tikis (by Milan Guanko and Andres Bumatay) are to be beheld in awe as some of the last remaining artefacts of a dying culture.

"...and they didn't have any Tiki mugs"!!? Know this: Tiki mugs had all but dissappeared from the face of the earth through the 80s and early 90s until very recently a couple of dedicated Tiki lovers began to remanufacture them again.
Now I am not saying the remaining places shold NOT use them, and the food HAS to be bad, but to EXPECT them is the wrong attitude. Gratitude for any remaining detail should prevail.

Book of Tiki, page 11: " But just as Paul Gauguin was fascinated with the melancholy atmosphere of decay in Papeete, Tahiti's capital, detecting "the blurred surface of some unfathomable enigma" in this already tainted paradise, so does the Urban Archeologist of today appreciate remnants of that "Paradise Lost" of American Dolce Vita we call Tiki-style."


I wish something could be done. It will not exist if people keep having bad experiences. I too had an awful time with bad service and worse food. I did think the place looked great (except those awful chairs!) This was several years ago, on a date. My sister was thinking of having her reception there, after getting married in Hawaii. She had souch a bad time she put together a luau on her own and had the reception on the beach at a nearby Hotel. The fact that it is still here is no excuse for poor service and food. It is, however, a restaurant! There are other places, like Bahooka in Rosemead, I'd rather give my money to. It is not enough to just still exist. I'm suprised you are condoning this, as someone who may want to see these places flourish. If a centralite was turned off an average joe certainly would be.

I am not condoning bad food and bad service, just saying that it is what it is, and if you have expectations for these, to go to any restaurant, but not a classic Tiki Bar. You are looking for the wrong things in the wrong place. The days where Don The Beachcomber fare was an epicurian adventure are over, maybe it never was, just the cocktails were. The Royal Hawaiian is packed on weekends because of it's atmosphere, and it's Mai Tais. Some people don't even like THOSE. The cocktails at Bahooka suck, and it is still a great place, because of it's authenticity.

As an endangered species, old Tiki bars, just like classic 50s cars that do not need a smog certificate, are exempt from the "I deserve good service/food" attitude.


On 2002-06-22 07:46, bigbrotiki wrote:

As an endangered species, old Tiki bars, just like classic 50s cars that do not need a smog certificate, are exempt from the "I deserve good service/food" attitude.

That is a good analogy, bigbro. I had an old convertible thru law school. No seat belts, no rear view mirror, but every stop light someone wanted to know "what year?" is it "real?" A rolling museum it was, even if starting her up in the morning could be an adventure. One must have an "accomodating" mind whem considering the old establishements, for sure.

There are so few "real" Tiki dens left, just about anything is acceptable if it's authentic. So, if TV's is more nautical than Tiki, so be it...cause you still get a great drink )$$$) in a real old Tiki Bar.

You still considering selling some of your collection? I await the chance to pick up some of your duplicates!



[ Edited by: DaneTiki 2009-08-30 19:35 ]

laney posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2002 1:42 PM

Sure, it is a good analogy. I have an old Caddy CDV convertable, I love her, when she is working! I don't expect it it be as a new car of course. No A.C ,forget about heat with the giant rag top, 8 MPG, I put in the seat belts, and she certainly doesen't stop on a dime. She looks great when she is running but as of a few days ago she'll be sitting in my driveway, getting dusty! I just spent several hundred on trany repairs, now she's got an engine problem. Constant repairs are needed to keep an old car working. I feel the same is necessary here, bad food can be over looked (ex.Bahooka steaks are the worst but the chicken is excellent)But bad food and service is not acceptable.
What a debate we have here! Looks like an agree to disagree deal! I too want to see these beautiful places survive for generations to come but I don't think they will with unhappy patrons. Just like a car that has left out to rust!

[ Edited by: laney on 2004-01-05 21:21 ]

Folks keep in mind that Royal Hawaiian has been in business since the late 40's. Yes, market forces do prevail, but obviously something is working for the Royal Hawaiian. For those who do not live in CA and have no understanding of the price of real estate here, Laguna Beach is a high, high, high, rent area. Businesses don't stay open if they're losing money - period. Subsequently, people don't go somewhere if it blows. You do the math.

Let's use this analogy, if Marilyn Monroe were still alive, hardcore Marilyn fans would very much want to see her. Even though she has lost the beauty of youth, they would still be enthralled to be in her presence. One could easily find the young beauties everywhere, but to the hardcore it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't be Marilyn (no I'm not a M.M. fan).

laney posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2002 1:53 PM

Dane, looks like we posted about the same time with the same thing to say. I too love dive bars, especially mid afternoon when the only ones in there are those old men who have been walking to meet at the bar everyday for years! Most may be dusty and old but I usually get friendly service and attitudes that make me want to come back! Like the first post says, I too am willing to overlook one bad feature be it atmosphere, food, attitude, or service but all of the above is too much.

laney posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2002 1:58 PM

I must say I'm certain they paid off that land long ago! I'm no money pro but know people who have beachfront property that has been handed down through generations and could NEVER afford it now! As far as taxes that could be based on perchase price also.


I have been back to the Tonga Room in San Francisco many times, and I will keep going back, even though I have received terrible service. Why? For the amazing decor, for the "storm" that occurs every 20 minutes with lightning flashes, sounds of rolling thunder, and rain that falls on the lake in the middle of the restaurant, and for the drinks that are usually good. I have only sampled the happy hour food buffet and it was average steam-table chinese fare but I've heard that the food is pretty bad so I haven't tried dinner there. Still, I will keep going back.

I guess with places such as the Tonga Room or the Royal Hawaiian, I do lower my food and service expectations somewhat. But I always expect the drinks to be good. Sure, I worry as well that these places might close if people stop coming and that's why I cut them some slack and keep going back - to try to do my part in keeping them around.


Does this mean you're out in regards to the OC mini-crawl since it's headed to the Royal Hawaiian.


[ Edited by: DaneTiki 2009-08-30 19:35 ]

laney posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2002 4:07 PM

Hey, Bong, I never said I was boycotting the place or anything, only that, on my one visit had a similar experience with bad food and service. I'll have cocktails anywhere! I'll even offer up my Caddy Convertable (used in analogy) for hopping (if I can get it repaired by then) Not offering to be the designated driver all night though! Maybe one of the teetotalers could drive!


For a real treat next time you're in the area, bring the family to the Bahooka!! (in rosemead?) Make sure you get the "special volcano dessert!" But, if you want 5 star service, don't go to any "tiki establishment". Or,maybe that place in N.Y. were all the super-models and yuppies hang would have good sevice and tudes.

laney posted on Tue, Jul 9, 2002 11:37 AM

Hey, I love Bahooka. Everytime me and my freind go there we are greated with "hi" and "why haven't you been in such a long time!" I've almost always had excelent service and the chicken is the best (steak sucks) They let my son feed the big fish carrots and give him lots of quarters from the bar for the video games. They are nice there and will make ANY drink you want in a bowl for two. I don't care what bigbro says, we've been knocked on our butts by a bowl for two when we didn't even taste the alcohol! I've been going there every couple of months for about 7 years, or more, and never left disappointed.
See-it is possible to get good food and or service at a tiki place! Bahooka (inside and out)is seen in the movie "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" But it is well worth the drive to Rosemead and the family is welcome.

I've been going to the Royal Hawaiian since I was in a high chair some 50 + years ago. Last time I went I almost cried. I asked, and was told that the original owners sold after the fires in Laguna, they lost their home. They too, were polynesian lovers. Since the new owners took over, atmosphere totally changed and so did the attitude. I guess you really can't go back and relive your old memories.


On 2010-09-16 15:13, Sari Sally wrote:
I've been going to the Royal Hawaiian since I was in a high chair some 50 + years ago. Last time I went I almost cried. I asked, and was told that the original owners sold after the fires in Laguna, they lost their home. They too, were polynesian lovers. Since the new owners took over, atmosphere totally changed and so did the attitude. I guess you really can't go back and relive your old memories.

They sold it back in 2006. Tiki Central had a large party there to see it off right:
The Royal Hawaiian's Last Hoorah (Sat., Feb. 18, 2006)

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